By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
It is not surprising that the Torah often places related concepts in close proximity to each other. Parasha Re’e exemplifies this concept.
Parasha Re’e opens with a blessing and a curse. “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing if you obey the commandments of the L-rd your G-d, which I command you this day; and a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord you G-d.” Debarim 11:26-28.
The Torah continues, a few short pesukim later, “For you shall pass over the Yarden to go to possess the land which the L-rd your G-d gives you, and you shall possess it and dwell in it. And you shall observe and do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day.” Debarim 11:31-32.
The Jewish people were commanded to “take possession [of the land] from them, before you, and you will take possession from them and settle in their land. . . .” Debarim 12:29. This command appears to be redundant. However, the Hebrew word which is used for the second, apparently redundant, command to “take possession” of the Land is [ירשת], which means “inheritance.” Thus, the implication is that not only are the Jewish people commanded to take “possession” of the Land from its inhabitants, they are commanded to take legal title to the Land, by force, if necessary. Commenting on this pasuk, the Sages said that “The misva of living in Eretz Yisra’el is equal to all of the other commandments of the Torah.” Sifre, Re’e 80.
The Torah, simply stated, is here telling the Jewish people that if they obey the commandments, they will be blessed; if not they will be cursed. The Torah then continues with the command to enter Eretz Yisra’el; to “possess,” that is conquer, and dwell in the Land; and to “observe and do all the statutes and judgments” in the Land.
The Talmud states:
The misva of living in Eretz Israel is timeless; it is still the Halakha today. The Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 75:4, states that: “If [a husband] proposes to ascend to Eretz Yisrael and [the wife] does not want to [go], [the husband] must divorce her. . . . [And if the wife] proposes ascending [to Eretz Yisrael] and [the husband] does not want to [go], he must divorce her.”
In Parasha Bereshit, HaShem tells Abram (before HaShem changed his name to “Abraham”) “I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourns – the whole of the land of Canaan – as an everlasting possession; and I will be a G-d unto them.” [ונתתי לך ולזרעך אחריך את ארץ מגריך את כל ארץ כנען לאחזת עולם והייתי להם לאלקים] Bereshit 17:8.
As the great commentator Rashi explained, the phrase “and I will be a G-d unto them” means that, in Eretz Yisra’el, HaShem will be a G-d to the Jewish people, but any Jew who voluntarily resides outside of Eretz Yisra’el ) is as if he is without HaShem [ושם אהיה לכם לאלקים – אבל בן ישראל ה’הדר בחוצה לארץ כמו שאין לו אלוה].
Furthermore, we find in Midrash Halakha the statement “Even though I exile you, continue to be marked with [perform] the misvot so that when you return to Eretz Yisra’el they [the misvot] will not be new to you.” Sifre, Eqeb 43. In other words, the reason a Jew performs misvot while outside of Eretz Yisra’el is not because he is commanded or obligated to do so, but rather, only so that he will know how to perform the misvot when he returns to Eretz Yisra’el!
Statements, such as the following, can be found in many places in the Torah: “Behold, I [Moshe Rabbeinu] have taught you statutes and judgments . . . that you should act accordingly in the land. . . .” Debarim 4:5 (italics added).
The Ibn Ezra explains the reason why the misvot can be performed only in Eretz Yisra’el. “For the L-ord knew that [the Jewish people] could not properly keep the misvot as long as they were in the land of others who ruled over them.” Ibn Ezra, Debarim 4:10.
The Torah informs us that the Jewish people “are a people that shall dwell alone.” Bamidbar 22:9. Thus, we learn that the reason the Jewish people are to dwell alone – in Eretz Yisra’el – and why the misvot can properly be performed only in Eretz Yisra’el, is because the Jew, living as a minority in a majority gentile culture cannot help but be corrupted by that culture.
“Dwelling alone” in Eretz Yisra’el contains two components: Aliyah and “driving out” the Arabs and any other people who claim to possess a right to Eretz Yisra’el which is greater than that of the Jewish people. One, without the other, is insufficient and will be ineffective.
Lastly, there is the issue of the Jew who would rather not be “chosen,” that is, who wants to live outside of Eretz Yisra’el, who wants to live a so-called “normal” life, who does not want to be Jewish.
The Torah is clear. “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing if you obey the commandments of the L-rd your G-d, which I command you this day; and a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord you G-d.” Debarim 11:26-28.
There is no third option. There is no opting-out. For a Jew, there is only “blessing” or “curse.” That’s it. “Jewishness,” just as certain other personal characteristics, is immutable: it cannot be changed.
May every Jew rise to the challenge presented by the Torah and choose to be blessed.
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.